Author Archives: clairegebben

When you can’t go to Scotland …

I didn’t have the good fortune to travel to Scotland this summer, but a couple of experiences brought Scotland to me.

img_2998-1One was a spirit tasting on Whidbey Island, courtesy of Glaswegian Colin Campbell, owner of Cadée Distillery.

The vodka, gin, rye whiskey and bourbon tasted great, but with its signature flavors — Intrigue Gin infused with botanicals, Deceptivus Bourbon finished in 20-year-old port barrels, and a newly released spicy smooth Cascadia Rye — Cadée Distillery has upped its game. Truly superb.

Colin Campbell loves drawing parallels between his “Isle of Whidbey” and Scotland (“We have gray days and so does Scotland. We have whiskey and Scotland has whisky”) and stubbornly insists the accent, despite his thick Glaswegian brogue, is ours. A tasting at Cadée Distillery, 8912 Highway 525, Clinton, Washington, just off the Whidbey Mukilteo ferry, is highly recommended. Cadée spirits can also be found locally at Bev Mo and Whole Foods and Safeway, to name a few.

highland-games-introThe other Scottish-flavored treat was a day in Enumclaw, spent at the Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering. I’ll write another post soon about the games and the sights. Plenty to enjoy, including this introduction to the day as we waited in line to purchase our tickets just outside the gate.

When you can’t go to Scotland, such diversions are the next best thing.

Immigration today

naturalization

A pedestrian crosses the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn on the morning of July 8, 2016 .

I have researched and written about 19th century immigration, but to be clear, this post is about immigration today. Literally. Today, I had the unique privilege of being invited to attend a Naturalization ceremony at Brooklyn Courthouse. Did I draw historic parallels from the experience? One or two.

First, let me note that while the experience was unique for me, it wasn’t unique for the Brooklyn Courthouse. Judge Bloom opened her proceedings with a few startling statistics. The Courthouse in which we were gathered conducted four such Naturalizations per week, admitting some 50,000 new citizens to the U.S. annually, making it the second busiest courthouse for naturalizations in the nation. Each ceremony generally involves people from 70-75 different countries.

The Naturalization was scheduled at 11:00 a.m. The Brooklyn Ceremonial Courtroom was standing room only when I arrived at 10:50, but two gentlemen in the back row, one from Bangladesh, the other from India cordially squeezed apart to make room for me.

After her preliminary remarks, Judge Bloom led the gathering in the Oath of Allegiance. In advance of the reading of the Oath, it had been stressed several times that every single person had to have the Oath of Allegiance paper in hand and be reading from it out loud. When it came time to read the oath, people raised their right hand in a gesture of allegiance.

What did I do? I had no paper with the oath printed on it.  I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, and a quick glance up front indicated clerks scanning the crowd to be sure everyone was participating. So along with everyone else, I raised my right hand and repeated the oath, and even pretended to hold a piece of paper in my hand because they’d made such a big deal out of that. I admit I felt a bit silly, like a baseball player in the game line-up mouthing the words of the National Anthem for the benefit of the TV cameras.

The oath concluded, the immigrants were all proclaimed U.S. citizens and welcomed to our country. That could have been the end of the judge’s role, but Judge Bloom turned it into a special occasion, more than just a formality and paperwork. She read out the country of origin of every immigrant and asked each to stand and be applauded. Judge Bloom spoke then, about the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution with its emphasis on liberty, about the importance of voting (and paying taxes), and about the importance of being faithful now to the U.S., but also remembering customs and languages of origin. And about supporting children, hence the future, in every way possible, and especially with regard to education.

It was a proud moment. I marveled about how the Preamble to the Constitution, with its Blessings of Liberty, still resonates more than two centuries later. Citizens rights and liberty are what have lured people to the U.S. all along. Despite this country’s many shortcomings, for instance racial divisions, inequities, and reckless lack of gun regulation, people still come. In what other country are Naturalizations so ongoing, numerous, and diverse, I wonder? And how can we as citizens make its founding principles of rights, justice, and liberty enduring?

I think Judge Bloom got it exactly right when she emphasized getting to know our neighbors. Expressing who we are and showing curiosity about others is a start. In the back row of the Ceremonial Courtroom, I enjoyed talking with the two brand new U.S. citizens I met this morning. We shared our experiences and knowledge and hopes. The Bengali gentleman is passionate about political science, and the gentleman from India preaches at Sikh temples all around the U.S. and in Canada. They both seemed impressed that an American-born citizen would choose to attend the Naturalization. But in a way, it’s a return to my roots. As Judge Bloom pointed out, unless we’re Native American, every one of us has come from somewhere.

Today, for me, the word “welcome” took on a whole new power, and reminded me of the importance of engaging actively with diverse peoples. It doesn’t happen all by itself. It works when we do, toward healing divides and building peace.

Getting the most out of writing conferences

It’s almost summer, and writing conference season is in full swing. As a past presenter at Write on the Sound (WOTS), I’m pleased to be the guest blogger this week for the WOTS blog on the subject of “Getting the Most out of Writing Conferences.” The Write on the Sound Conference will be held this fall, September 30-October 2 in Edmonds, WA, and they’ve just posted their conference schedule (see link above).

Speaking of which, here are links to regional writing conferences on the docket this summer and fall:

June 23-15, 2016: Chuckanut Writers Conference at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, WA

July 28-31, 2016:
Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in Seattle, WA

August 12-14, 2016: Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, OR

October 20-23, 2016: Surrey International Writers’ Conference in Surrey (Vancouver), BC, Canada

November 4-6, 2016:
Kaua’i Writers Festival in Hawaii.

Have fun, and keep writing!

Wine-tasting with wine princesses

Freinsheim wine princess Anne II

Freinsheim wine princess Anne II

Before arriving in Freinsheim, my cousin Matthias emailed the plans for April 2. “We have tickets for a wine-tasting with the wine princesses from 2-7 Saturday.”

What could this be? Celebrity princesses holding court behind a wine-tasting counter, pouring out sips from jewel-tinted bottles of wine? Not exactly. Here’s how it worked.

The Urlaubsregion Freinsheim (think chamber of commerce, German-style) organizes a wine-tasting to five different villages in and around the region, guided by the wine princesses from each of five villages. Each princess introduces two wines unique to her village. In our case, the tour included: a Riesling and a dry Weisburgunder in Weisenheim am Sand, Viognier and Grauburgunder in Erpolzheim, Chardonnay and Rose in Herxheim, Auxerrois and Cuvée in Weisenheim am Berg, and white and red Spätburgunders (Pinot Noirs) in Freinsheim.

But pictures say it best.

We meet the wine princesses.

We meet the wine princesses.

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We hike to our first wine-tasting, in a forest park at Weisenheim am Sand.

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The wine princesses introduce the vintage and wine-maker.

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We sample our first vintage.

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We board the bus for the next village.

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We hike to a pleasant garden among the vineyards.

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The wine princess introduces the wine and wine-maker.

2016 wine-tasting 5

Zum wohl!

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Inside the bus.

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Next stop, the Herxheim am Berg Schlossgarten.

2016 wine-tasting 7

Back on the bus …

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… for Weisenheim am Berg …

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… and finish up in Freinsheim.

Viel Spaß!

Viel Spaß!

Making history

In the first decades of my life, I wasn’t a big fan of history. Dwelling on the past? What for? It’s best, I used to say, to look forward, to the future.

Since then, as this blog will attest, I’ve become a huge fan of the experiences and insights of those who have preceded us on this earth. If we’re willing to investigate our past, we learn a great deal to inform us regarding our future.

Which sentiment is not intended to override the importance of making history. In that light, I wish to extend huge applause to a brand new, first ever publication: The Best New British And Irish Poets 2016, judged and edited by Kelly Davio, Series Editor Todd Swift, published this year by Eyewear Publishing.

british and irish poetsThis chorus of new voices, those who have “not yet come under contract to publish their debut full-length poetry collection” at the time of submission for potential inclusion in the anthology, is an inaugural publication for the UK, in the spirit of “best of” anthologies that have been published in America for some time. These poems resonate with the voices of the era, with social engagement, relationships, the tough issues of 21st century lives, and ongoing dialogue with poets of the ages.

A recommended, delightful read. Cheers to history in the making.

Delighted

Spread the word! I’m delighted to announce that for the entire month of February the ebook of my historical novel The Last of the Blacksmiths is just $.99. Purchase through Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or Amazon.

Coffeetown Press is also featuring an interview with me on their website here.
meet the author

It’s also a pleasure to note that I continue to receive invitations to speak about writing, German genealogy, and more. For a list of my talk topics, click here. These presentations are a time for me to share the wealth of tips and info I picked up while writing my novel, and I love hearing your stories as well.

All the best in your writing and family history adventures.

Writing retreats and 21st century blacksmiths

I’m on Whidbey Island again for a writers residency. For MFA students (the program from which I’m a 2011 graduate), it’s a nine-day, intensive writing start to the 16 week spring semester. For non-MFA students like myself, it’s an opportunity to advance our skills, and connect with other writers in a vibrant community.

Case in point, I stood in the dinner line last night with poet Gary Lilley, the new poetry faculty at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA program.

Somehow the conversation got around to blacksmithing (as it inevitably seems to, based on the subject of my historical novel The Last of the Blacksmiths). I mentioned how, while I was writing the novel, I came across an article about how blacksmiths are still hired by the City of New York maintenance department — one of their jobs being to forge basketball hoops for city parks.

This morning I googled New York City blacksmiths to verify what I remembered, and located the article. It appeared in 2010 in The New York Times here. What I’d missed in the ensuing years is that one of the four NYC positions for blacksmiths became vacant in 2014, a job that pays an annual salary of just over $100K. The write-up about the opening appears in the Brooklyn Magazine here. (Sorry I didn’t know back then, or I would have spread the word.)

As we talked, I learned that Gary has personal experience with these NYC custom-made hoops. An expression crossed his face I’ve seen often at writing conferences and retreats — the expression of a writer inspired. He confessed a poem had started to come to him. I completely understood.

It’s what makes these gatherings of writers so vital, where words and rhythms clang and vibrate like ghetto rims, called into being from the mysterious workings of language and the mind.

Scottish cookery

scottish cookeryLucky me, at the Friends of the Library book sale, I found Claire Macdonald’s Scottish Cookery. It’s a small booklet of 30 pages, with gorgeous photos of Scottish standards, including “Cullen Skink” (Finnan haddock soup), “Clootie Dumpling” (fruit pudding steamed in cloth), and Herrings in Oatmeal, “one of the most traditional meals in Scotland.”

Here’s a recipe in Scottish Cookery for dressing up turnips and potatoes.

Clapshot

Serves 4
1 lb floury potatoes, peeled and diced
1 lb yellow turnip, peeled and cut up
5 Tbsp single cream or 5 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp snipped chives
salt and black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

Boil the potato and turnip in separate pans for 20 minutes, until tender. Drain them, return them to the pan, and shake them over the heat to dry. Mash thoroughly until smooth. Mix in cream or butter, and chives, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and a grating of nutmeg. Continue to mash over the heat. Serve immediately. Apparently, south of the boarder Clapshot is called “swede.”

skirlie

Tips for family history albums

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“The New Bonnet” 1858 by Francis William Edmond, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY

Two weekends ago, I gave a session at the Write on the Sound Conference in Edmonds called “For the Record,” about ways to write about and publish your family history. A popular approach is to design a “family history album” online. Many sites will assist with genealogy “scrapbooks” or family history albums. A few links to vendors are found on Cyndis list here.

"The Power of Music" 1847, William Sidney Mount Cleveland Art Museum

“The Power of Music” 1847, William Sidney Mount
Cleveland Art Museum

Additional options for creating an album: Snapfish, Shutterfly, and my friend David Williams’s favorite Magcloud. These companies provide design templates and instructions for uploading text, photos and graphics to create your personal album. At Magcloud, you can give relatives and friends the option of downloading the digital book for free, and/or buying a hard copy edition for a pretty fair price.

"The Penny Wedding" 1819 by Alexander Carse The Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

“The Penny Wedding” 1819 by Alexander Carse
The Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

Regarding graphics, the choices for visuals become slimmer before the invention of photography, first accessible to middle-class families in the mid-1800s. These days we’re so reliant on photography we tend to forget a very helpful alternative. Paintings. Before the camera, painters were the portrayers of everyday life. I’ve found that many art museums allow non-flash photos, so whenever I’m doing research I bring along my camera.

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“Return from the Church Fair” circa 1859-1860 by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller Old National Gallery in Berlin

If you do include a photo of a painting in your album, it’s helpful to include a caption noting the title, the artist and year, and the museum where you snapped the picture. How do you get all that detail down? Photograph the painting first, then follow that up with a photo of the label next to it for later reference.

Honestly, I didn’t think of this resource myself — my writing friend Michele Genthon pointed it out. Thanks, Michele. In this post, I’ve included just a few of the many paintings by artists who have brilliantly captured life in former times.

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County Genealogy resources

Recently, I bumped into the website Cleveland and its Neighborhoods, which has a wealth of “History, Genealogy, and Other Peripheral Subjects pertaining to Cleveland, Ohio” compiled by Laura Hine. It’s an incredibly comprehensive resource, one that didn’t readily pop up during my novel research, so I thought I’d give it a shout out here.

cleve neighbors

At the bottom of the “Cleveland and Its Neighborhoods” home page is another link to Hine’s sister site: “just about everything that you need to know about doing genealogy research in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.” Tips and go-to topics include: Births, Deaths, Suburbs that maintain their own Birth and Death Certificates, Obituaries, Funeral Homes, Marriages, Cemeteries, Catholic Church records, Useful Cuyahoga County Websites, Other Cuyahoga County Genealogy Collections, Property Deeds – Recorder’s Office, Cuyahoga County Audito, Courts in Cuyahoga County, Cuyahoga County Probate Court Estate Case Files – Index and Images, Cuyahoga County Naturalization Records, Census, City Directories, Maps and Atlases, Military, Newspapers, Schools, Taxes and Voter Information.

Salivating yet? Access this info by clicking here: Frequently Asked Questions For Genealogy Research in Cuyahoga County

Thanks, Laura–you’re officially my Cuyahoga County genealogy maven!